Is a big vacation in the near future for your family? Do you plan to use your favorite travel website—like Expedia or Orbitz? Did you know that you have another option? You can enlist the services of a local travel agent. In this age of all things online, they still exist. And for good reason: There are a myriad of things that can go wrong on a trip, despite your best efforts to dot all the i’s and cross all t’s when booking yourself.
According to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), nearly one in four U.S. travelers still rely on travel agents when planning their trips. Also known as travel advisors, vacation planners and travel consultants, their job is to provide insider knowledge and the latest info that you might not get elsewhere. Some of the benefits of using a travel agent to plan and book your trip include:
Save Money and Time—Nobody works for free, and that includes your travel agent. They can charge anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars per booking, depending on the complexity of a trip. But when you look at the total picture, ASTA reports an average of $452 in savings for each trip with fees factored in. Here’s why: They may have available preferred rates and get better deals than you could otherwise find on your own, therefore saving you money. Your travel agent should also be privy to sales and specials not advertised. You also save on time: the ASTA reports an average savings of 4 hours per trip.
More Benefits & Perks—Travel agents are connected, and they are generally savvy travelers themselves and know what to look for in a hotel or trip itinerary. By virtue of their occupation, they often are comped or offered discounted trips to check out properties and locations. They build relationships with cruise line personnel, hotel managers and tour operators. Often these relationships can transfer to things like better rooms, free breakfasts and room upgrades. This is probably the one area that offsets any fees they may charge for their services.
Extensive Knowledge—Experienced travel advisors may have been to the exact hotel you’re looking at, or have a client who just got back. They may also have the scoop on which locations and properties are the best, which resorts ‘look’ like the photos online, and which ones are under renovation. If you don’t have the inside scoop, your ‘island view’ room that you booked yourself online might actually overlook a parking lot, and you won’t find this out until you get there. And no one likes these kinds of surprises as they arrive at their hotel.
You’re Planning a Complex or Exotic Trip—If you’re planning a weekend getaway to Nashville and just need a flight, hotel and a car, you can easily do that on your favorite travel website. If you’re planning a two-week trip to Europe with multiple flights, trains and hotels, you’re going to want the help of a travel advisor who can put you in the best accommodations you can afford in your budget. Not to mention the experience of coordinating complex transportation, accommodations and tours. They can also steer you in the right direction for making sure you have the proper travel items—like passport, immunizations and currency—for your destination. Plus, they can give insight about the different laws and customs of a foreign country. Planning a group trip? A travel agent can help simplify things by handling different payments and requests for each traveler, as well as offering heavily discounted group quotes.
You Prefer a Payment Plan—Booking yourself online generally requires an upfront payment, but a travel agent can offer flexible payment plans to meet your individual needs. Maybe you’re still saving up for the trip a year and a half in the future? Some allow you to put down as little as $50 for a deposit, with the remaining balance due 30 days from trip departure. Not a bad idea, especially if you’re still on the fence about that big vacation or worried that something might come up.
Help if Something Goes Awry—People experience travel hiccups all the time! When it happens, it’s a relief to know you have an agent in your corner that can help you navigate an overbooked hotel, cancelled flights, or any other unforeseen event. Your agent can also help you rebook itineraries due to weather events, steer you in the right direction for travel insurance, and more.
When folks encounter trouble dealing with airlines, it can feel like torture. Instead of spending hours on a phone or shelling out more money, a good travel advisor will work as your advocate. Many agencies offer 24/7 service, so don’t leave home without the number.
Finally, the best thing about using an agent may simply be this: You’ll have peace of mind knowing that someone with more expertise than you is helping you to have a great vacation. After all, you’re counting on an enjoyable and memorable trip.
Resources: NerdWallet, Kiplinger, AARP, U.S. News & World Report